Coming into the season, all I looked for from this team was to play competitive football late in the season. After three consecutive years of meaningless playing for pride in the winter months, I just wanted something fresh.
Well, the calendar is now firmly in December and the Falcons are firmly in the NFC Wildcard race, tied for the last spot at 6-7. It doesn’t get more competitive than a date with the 7-6 49ers, who are currently occupying the conference’s 6-seed.
The Falcons have given me what I asked for of them. It’s entertaining, they have the attention of the fanbase and now we can even get a little greedy in our expectations as everything else would be gravy.
This is the crossroads of Atlanta’s season. This is a must-win game that will determine if a legitimate playoff push can be made or if the mock drafts will be getting fired up with a bit of extra vigor. One thing I can say with satisfaction, however, is that at least we’re focusing on mock drafts as early as we were last year.
Let’s take a look at the circumstances surrounding the Falcons if they beat the San Francisco 49ers in Week 15, as well as looking at the scenario if they lose.
If the Falcons win
According to FiveThirtyEight’s data-drive simulations, Atlanta’s playoff chances would skyrocket from 12% to 42% with a victory this weekend. Looking ahead, if they beat the 49ers, Saints and Lions while losing to the Bills, that number bloats further to 73%.
The Falcons are currently tied for the last Wildcard spot, currently occupied by the Washington Football Team, along with the Saints, Vikings, and Eagles, all of whom are also 6-7. New Orleans has to face the imposing Buccaneers on the road, while Philly and Washington square off, this weekend.
Atlanta will move to 7-7, in a tie with the 49ers (whom they would have the tiebreaker over), one of Philadelphia/Washington and likely Minnesota (who faces Chicago on Monday Night Football). That would be four teams all tied for the last two Wildcard spots, and the Falcons will be in the thick of it all with home games remaining against the Lions and Saints, putting them in an incredibly advantageous position.
The Birds will move their record away from Mercedes-Benz Stadium to a glistening 7-2 this season, proving their metal as absolute road warriors under Arthur Smith. This would also be their third consecutive victory against the 49ers.
If the Falcons lose
Their playoff chances would crater to just 3%, according to FiveThirtyEight. Even if the Falcons go 3-1 the rest of the way, with the only defeat being to San Francisco, their playoff chances would stand at just 27%. Simply put, this game is by far the most important of Atlanta’s season.
The 49ers would move to two games ahead of the Birds and would own the head-to-head tiebreaker, meaning that the Falcons would have to win out and hope that San Francisco loses out to pass them in the standings. This scenario would essentially take the 6-seed out of play for Atlanta, and would make them have to fight exclusively for the last Wildcard spot.
Even if the Falcons win out the rest of the way after losing this game (remember, one of those remaining games is a January date in Buffalo, against the Bills), they will still be statistically favored to miss the playoffs. Lose any other game the rest of the way, along with this one, and those playoff chances fall to below 1%. Atlanta currently controls its own destiny, and that control would vanish into thin air with a defeat this weekend.